hair dye cancer risk

Does Hair Dye Raise Your Risk of Cancer? Interview with:
Yin Zhang MD

Research Fellow in Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School What is the background for this study?

Response: Among modern hair dyes, permanent hair dye is the most popular type, and is the most aggressive and extensively used type that has posed the greatest potential concern about cancer risk. Monitoring and investigating the carcinogenic hazard to people from personal use of permanent hair dyes has major public health implications. In 2008, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, after comprehensive reviewed prior evidence, classified occupational exposure to hair dyes as a probable carcinogen to humans (group 2A), whereas personal use of hair dyes was not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans (Group 3). Data on hair dye safety has also been continuously monitored by the USFDA. Prior epidemiological evidence may have been influenced by not discriminating between personal and occupational exposure, an inability to distinguish types and colors of hair dyes used, imprecise assessment of several critical domains of exposure history (duration, frequency and cumulative dose), and inadequate control for potential confounding. What are the main findings?

hair dye cancer riskResponse: We observed no positive association between personal permanent hair dye use and risk of most cancers or cancer-related mortality.

Positive association was observed for risk of basal cell carcinoma, breast cancer (estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, hormone receptor negative) and ovarian cancer, as well as a suggestion of heterogeneity by natural hair color for some endpoints (increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma was observed only among women with naturally dark hair, higher risks of basal cell carcinoma observed specifically among women with naturally light hair). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This prospective cohort study among mostly white US women offers some reassurance against concerns that personal use of permanent hair dyes might be associated with increased cancer risk or mortality. However, we did find a positive association for risk of some cancers. Given the strengths and limitations of our present study and the complexity of this topic, further investigations in this topic are needed. Current evidence regarding the carcinogenic potential of personal use of permanent hair dyes are not conclusive. Before any definitive conclusions can be reached, we would like to recommend taking precautions while applying permanent hair dyes (e.g., following directions, using gloves, keeping track of time, rinsing the scalp thoroughly with water after use, etc.) to reduce dermal and airborne routes of exposure to hair dye chemicals. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Further investigations are needed in diverse populations and nations, different exposure settings (personal use vs. occupational use), different timings, and various colors of permanent hair dyes used (dark-colored vs. light-colored) with more refined exposure assessments. 

No disclosures 


Zhang Yin, Birmann Brenda M, Han Jiali, Giovannucci Edward L, Speizer Frank E, Stampfer Meir J et al. Personal use of permanent hair dyes and cancer risk and mortality in US women: prospective cohort study BMJ 2020; 370 :m2942


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Last Updated on September 3, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD